[Ed. note: This article is part of our weekly series of resources for churches and families called Cultivating Community published on Thursdays.]
How often do we eat meals alone? In a hurry? In a fast-food restaraunt, at the office, or in a car? When was the last time you prepared a meal from scratch? Lingered for hours after dinner just talking with friends? Invited people to your house to show them God’s love through good food?
A good meal can be a ministry. Food prepared with thought and care, served in comfortable and inviting surroundings, and enhanced by real conversation can be a tangible extension of our call to love one another as ourselves. This is especially true in a culture where, by and large, so many people have forgotten the arts of hospitality and of eating.
What Good is a Meal?
A good meal affirms our humanity. It is a chance to respond with gratitude to the Lord’s gifts of food and community. In eating together we acknowledge our dependence on God for our daily bread. It is humanizing to be treated with love, dignity, and forethought by others. In sharing a meal we recognize that we are relational beings; we need to know and be known in return. The act of eating points to the goodness of the fact that God created us with bodies in a physical world. Christianity does not agree with some Manichean sentiment that bodies are evil; humans are creatures of hands, feet, senses, and stomachs, and that is a good thing! We can experience our human capacity for creativity as we eat delicious and skillfully prepared food, listen to good music, and make conversation.
We need to insert a caveat at this point: Be careful to remember the story of Martha and Mary in which Martha is busy with all the preparations for the evening and is rebuked by Jesus for forgetting what really matters. The point of hospitality is to love people well, not to pull off a perfect evening. It is easy to get lost in the details and let hospitality become a worrisome and fearful task rather than a way to display the reality of God’s love for people.
- Clean the house. It seems like simple advice, but the space we are in has an affect on us. Taking some time to make the house feel clean and warm can go a long way to making people feel comfortable and welcome. That being said, the point is not to dine in a museum but a real house where real people live. If that means there are toys hastily hid behind the couch, so be it.
- Cook together. Tell your guests to arrive before you start cooking. Ask them to bring ingredients or drinks. Set some places out in the kitchen for people to sit. Set out snacks. Divide up the tasks between everyone. Rather than being a chore, this makes the meal feel like a group effort.
- Plan food ahead. Think of any dietary restrictions your guests might have like diabetes, vegetarianism, or food intolerances. Leave yourself room for recipes with long preparation times; cooking something slowly can add a whole new level of enjoyment to the cooking process, and often means that you are cooking with whole, healthy ingredients instead of pre-packaged food items laced with preservatives. Planning the menu ahead also gives you time to visit a farmer’s market rather than just picking up your ingredients at a supermarket.
- Serve food in courses. If you have time, put a salad together for an appetizer and put a dessert in the oven before you sit down to eat. Serving food in courses allows for extra time to settle in to the meal and one another’s company. After dinner, stretch the night out with a walk around the neighborhood. The point is to provide space for conversation and connection to happen.
- Think of an after-dinner activity. Something as simple as a game of charades or cards can be a great way to prolong the evening and provide a fun context for people to get to know each other.
- Put a little music on. Music can help set the mood. Choose something that will not be too distracting and that your guests will find enjoyable.
- Pray before you eat. Take time to thank God for his care in providing you with the things you need to live, including the food on the table, which came from creation’s natural resources.